Thursday, September 7, 2017

JUSTICE FOR DREAMERS - PUNISH THE AUTHORS OF FORCED MIGRATION

JUSTICE FOR DREAMERS - PUNISH THE AUTHORS OF FORCED MIGRATION
By David Bacon
Working In These Times, 9/8/17
http://inthesetimes.com/working


Dreamers and supporters march in San Francisco defying the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the government will rescind DACA.  More photographs - https://www.flickr.com/photos/56646659@N05/albums/72157684965038512


The DACA youth, the "dreamers" are the true children of NAFTA - those who, more than anyone, paid the price for the agreement.  Yet they are the ones now punished by the Trump administration as it takes away their legal status, their ability to work, and their right to live in this country without fearing arrest and deportation.  At the same time, those responsible for the fact they grew up in the U.S. walk away unpunished - even better off.

We're not talking about their parents.  It's common for liberal politicians (even Trump himself on occasion) to say these young people shouldn't be punished for the "crime" of their parents - that they brought their children with them when they crossed the border without papers.  But parents aren't criminals anymore than their children are.  They chose survival over hunger, and sought to keep their families together and give them a future.

The perpetrators of the "crime" are those who wrote the trade treaties and the economic reforms that made forced migration the only means for families to survive.  The "crime" was NAFTA. 

In a just world, U.S. trade negotiators would rewrite the treaty to repair the damage done to communities on both sides of the border, especially in Mexico.  They would ensure that those forced to migrate - dreamers and other migrants - have legal residence where they now live.  They would change the rules of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, so that the income and lives of working people and the poor aren't sacrificed to produce profit opportunities for big corporations.  And their new agreement would punish those corporations responsible for the vast increase in poverty resulting from NAFTA's passage.

While the Trump administration and a Republican Congress are certainly not going to negotiate any changes like these, the first step in making change possible is telling the truth.  Nowhere is this more important than in relation to NAFTA and immigration policy.  It's impossible to understand the outrageous injustice of deporting the dreamers without acknowledging the reasons why they live in the U.S. to begin with.

The treaty had an enormous effect on Mexico, producing a wave of forced migration of millions of people.  The World Bank in 2005 found that the extreme rural poverty rate of 35% in 1992-4, prior to NAFTA, jumped to 55% in 1996-8, after NAFTA took effect.  By 2010 53 million Mexicans were living in poverty, about 20% live in extreme poverty, almost all in rural areas. 

People were migrating from Mexico to the U.S. long before NAFTA, but the treaty put migration on steroids.  In 1990 4.5 million Mexican migrants had come to the U.S.  A decade later, that population more than doubled to 9.75 million, and in 2008 it peaked at 12.67 million.  About 9% of all Mexicans now live in the U.S.  About 5.7 million were able to get some kind of visa, but another 7 million couldn't, and came nevertheless - the dreamers and their parents.

In its first year, 1994, one million Mexicans lost their jobs, by the government's count.  According to Jeff Faux, founding director of the Economic Policy Institute, "the peso crash of December, 1994, was directly connected to NAFTA."  

The treaty then forced yellow corn grown by Mexican farmers without subsidies to compete in Mexico's own market with corn from huge U.S. producers, subsidized by the U.S. farm bill.  Corn imports rose from 2 million to over 10 million tons from 1992 to 2008.  Mexico imported 30,000 tons of pork in 1995, and by 2010 811, 000 tons.  As a result, pork prices dropped 56%, and Mexico lost over 120,000 jobs in pork production. 

NAFTA prohibited price supports, without which hundreds of thousands of small farmers found it impossible to sell corn or other farm products for what it cost to produce them.  The CONASUPO system, in which the Mexican government bought corn at subsidized prices, turned it into tortillas and sold them in state-franchised grocery stores at subsidized low prices, was abolished.  The price of corn to farmers fell by 66%, and the price of tortillas jumped by 279% in NAFTA's first decade.

In Dreams Deported, published by the UCLA Labor Center, dreamers describe their memories of forced migration, retold in their families. Vicky's family in Mexico "was too poor to pay for her mother's medication and Vicky couldn't find a job to support her parents." Renata Teodoro remembers, "My father had been working in the United States for many years, and we survived on the money he sent us."

Rufino Dominguez, former director of the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants, says, "NAFTA forced the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore.  We come to the U.S. to work because we can't get a price for our product at home.  There's no alternative."  About 2.5 million rural Mexican farmers and farmworkers were driven out of work or off their land.

Urban workers felt NAFTA's impact as well.  The average Mexican wage was 23% of the U.S. manufacturing wage in 1975.  By 2002 it was less than an eighth.  In the 20 years after NAFTA went into effect, the buying power of Mexican wages dropped - the minimum wage by 24%.  A U.S. autoworker earns $21.50 an hour, and a Mexican autoworker $3.00.   A gallon of milk costs more in Mexico than it does here.  It takes a Mexican autoworker over an hour's work to buy a pound of hamburger, while a worker in Detroit can buy it after 10 minutes.  But Mexican workers in the GM plant making the Sonic, Silverado, and Sierra produce the same number of cars per hour that the workers do in the U.S. plant making the same models.  The difference means profit for GM, poverty for Mexican workers, and the migration of those who can't survive.

Congress was warned that NAFTA might increase poverty and fuel migration.  When it passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986, Congress set up a Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development to study immigration's causes.  Its 1990 report recommended negotiating a free trade agreement between the U.S, Mexico and Canada.  But it warned, "It takes many years - even generations - for sustained growth to achieve the desired effect," and meanwhile years of "transitional costs in human suffering."  Nevertheless, the negotiations that led to NAFTA started within months.

In renegotiating the agreement, the AFL-CIO is right to say that "all workers, regardless of sector, have the right to receive wages sufficient for them to afford...a decent standard of living," and to prohibit export of products made by companies paying less.  Progressive Mexican unions and community organizations support this, because it would give workers and farmers a future at home, where they live.

Gaspar Rivera Salgado, a leader of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, which fights for immigrant rights in the U.S., says, "We need the ability to stay home with jobs and incomes that can support families - the right to not migrate."  But without changing U.S. trade policy and ending pro-corporate economic reforms, millions of displaced people will continue to migrate, no matter how many walls are built on the border.  If people bring their children with them, that's no more than any of us would do to avoid the breakup of our families.

Defending the dreamers and the rights of all migrants in the U.S. is intimately connected with changing the policies that uproot communities and force families into the dangerous journey through the desert, across this country's southern border.  Tearing down the wall instead of building a new one, and closing the detention centers instead of filling them with dreamers, is as much a part of renegotiating NAFTA as ensuring that Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill never again drive farmers off their land, or forcing General Motors to pay a wage that won't send workers home to hungry families.


Photographs of protests against white supremacists and Nazis in San Francisco and Berkeley:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/56646659@N05/albums/72157685294692721
https://www.flickr.com/photos/56646659@N05/albums/72157685785214143
Photographs of fast food workers, care givers and other workers marching in Oakland on Labor Day:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/56646659@N05/albums/72157688741764815

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

IN THE FIELDS OF THE NORTH - TWO NEW REVIEWS, TWO BOOK EVENTS 9-12 AND 9-15

IN THE FIELDS OF THE NORTH - TWO NEW REVIEWS, TWO BOOK EVENTS 9-12 AND 9-15

David Bacon's In the Fields of the North/En los campos del norte
Photographs and text by David Bacon
Spanish Translation by Rodolfo Hernandez Corchado and Claudia Villegas Delgado
University of California Press, 2016/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 2016
450 pp./$34.95 (sb)

Review by Janet Zandy
Afterimage, Vol 45, No 1
http://vsw.org/afterimage/afterimage-vol-45-no-1/

"Which Side Are You On?," Florence Reece's famous song based on an old spiritual was, and is, a declaration of partisanship. "No neutrals" she sang. "The workers offered all they had. They offered their hands," she recalled1. She wrote that song in 1930 when she and her husband Sam were organizing coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. Today, Lorena Hernández, a single mother from Oaxaca Mexico, fills buckets with blueberries in the fields of California, for "as long [each day] as my body can take it" (144). She describes her hands as "tired and dirty and mistreated" (148).

Reece's questioning first line has been hijacked for other political interests than labor justice. It's called a phony equivalency, the assumption that there are two equal sides with equal perspectives. But, as documentary photographers well know, not all sides are equivalent. There is no phony equivalency in the informed perspective of David Bacon in his most recent book of stunning photographs and testimony, In the Fields of the North/En los campos del norte.2 In his introductory essay, "In the Fields of the North: A Photographer Looks Through a Partisan Lens," Bacon quietly and justly claims his place in a long legacy of partisan photography, particularly of farm laboring. Dorothea Lange, Hansel Mieth, Otto Hagel, Pirkle Jones, Max Yavno, Paul Fusco, Roger Minick, Leonard Nadel, George Ballis, Ken Light, Richard Steven Street, and Ansel Adams all produced photographs of resistance to the invisibility of farm labor, particularly in California. Partisanship was and is intrinsic to their work. Some provided photographs as illustrations, such as Adams's pictures illustrating Paul S. Taylor's field research, "Mexicans North of the Rio Grande," published in the sociological journal Survey Graphic.3 Adams's photographs were taken nearly ninety years ago, but little has changed in the circuitry of poverty and exploitation underpinning the food we eat.

For thirty years, Bacon has listened and observed the hard labor and rough living conditions of people in motion, forced by poverty in the South to work in the fields of the North. In this beautifully designed bilingual-Spanish and English-book, Bacon skillfully integrates voices and images, balancing the particulars of individual stories and the aesthetics of penetrating portraits.

The book's division into seven chapters takes the viewer/reader from the first chapter's critical question: "Where Does our Food Come From?" to specific fields of labor in subsequent chapters: "Just Across the Border" (from migrant workers' perspectives) in San Diego and the Imperial Valley, Coachella and Blythe, Fresno and Arvin, Oxnard and Greenfield, Watsonville and Sonoma. The concluding chapter, "These Things Can Change," situated primarily in Washington State, traces the struggle of workers to form an independent union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice). Bacon ends with the children of strikers, smiling, standing on a fence, holding a handmade sign reading "Justicia Para Todos." This is the spine of Bacon's dialectic: the tension between the labor of the fields and the pleasures of consuming fruits and vegetables.

The "North" of the title, at once a metaphor and a geography of necessity, is key to seeing Bacon's photographs from the perspective of those living in the South who, forced by poverty, migrate to the North. Those in motion speak twenty-three languages and come from thirteen different Mexican states. They live in rickety shacks, informal settlements (colonia), cramped mobile home parks, in ravines, under trees, and sometimes inside or by the side of the fields, sin techo (without a roof). They pick strawberries, weed onion fields, prune grape vines. They cover their bodies as protection against the intense California heat, constant dust, and pesticides. Some bathe in polluted streams because there are no facilities.

Bacon's photographs incorporate, but do not foreground, the machinery in the fields, extensions of laboring hands. These images are not bucolic or pastoral landscapes of contented peasants; they are representations of what Laura Velasco Ortiz in her Afterword calls, "savage capitalism" (440). Ortiz underscores the contradiction embedded in the heart of California's sophisticated technological economy: the immediacy of piece-rate labor in the foreground, the wealth of high-tech industry in the background (440). Whether Purépechas from Michoacán or Mixtecos from Oaxaca, what field workers have in common is the physicality of labor. Bacon's photographs speak the language of the body at work. He offers a visual epistemology of labor. One can only imagine where Bacon positions his own body, and how he develops trusting relationships with workers and their families-who are not nameless-but are specifically named and seen by Bacon. This is not a photographer's self-reference. Rather, it is, to modify John Berger's language, a process of "imaginative attention" and having "a seeing eye."4

Bacon's black-and-white photographs put to rest any assumptions about the bifurcation of documentation and aesthetics. Consider his horizon lines, literally and metaphorically-as borders, separators, crossings, symbols, and as intersections of fields and bodies. The horizon suggests, dialogically, the desire for stasis and the necessity of movement. In photograph 045, a crew harvests romaine lettuce in a Coachella field. In the foreground, shadows of light and dark mark the romaine, a crouched worker, and his knife. In the background, four other workers, one wearing a back support, break the horizon line with their bodies. Another crew harvests melons. The figure in the foreground, head shielded by a US flag scarf, wearing a light-colored sweatshirt, empties pale melons into a white bucket. His body, in an unintended warrior pose, intersects a diagonal dark horizon line (photograph 086). That line speaks to Bacon's appreciation of Alexander Rodchenko's advice, "We must take photographs from every angle but the navel" (20).

Bacon's portraits, like those of Milton Rogovin, convince because Bacon has earned trust inside and outside the fields. Consider his close framing of the faces of a Mixtec couple from Oaxaca, their personal dignity and their weathered skin; they pick raisins in Fresno (115). Consider Lino Reyes, his wife and five children, Mixtec migrants from Oaxaca, who all live in a garage on the outskirts of Oxnard, California. Reyes and his wife work in the strawberry fields (167). Consider the hands of Armando (and Bacon's descriptive caption), as he "manicures a bunch of table grapes, clipping out the dry or unripe ones" (photograph 040). Consider what it takes to stand all day with arms outstretched in grapevines. Consider the necessity of multiple layers of clothing in fields where the temperature can reach 107 degrees. Consider Bacon's sensitivity to details-Alejandra Espinoza's headscarf is printed with little hearts and baby bears (unnumbered photograph).

Organic farming protects workers from sprayed chemical fields, but also involves more stooped labor. Bacon deconstructs assumptions about organic produce from a worker's perspective: "a healthy, attractive, organic potato . . . is much more a product of workers' labor than the non-organic kind" (40). And he reminds the organic produce-consumer that "low wages and abuse are as prevalent in organic agriculture as they are in the non-organic sector" (46).

Wherever you open this book and gaze at the photographs, you will see images of masked workers, especially women, fabric over head and mouth, only the eyes penetrating through slits in the wrapped cloth. Bacon's photographs unmask these human beings.

In the Fields of the North is also a collective and collaborative work. Bacon, a trained union organizer, has worked for decades with the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, a Mexican migrant organization), and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). Bacon writes, "They helped design this project at the beginning, the lawyers and especially the community workers in CRLA, the activists in FIOB, participated in taking the photographs and recording the interviews at all levels" (446). These memorable, aesthetically powerful photographs are Bacon's, but it is in keeping with his sense of solidarity that he shares credit. (Imagine other photographers acknowledging the work of their printers or studio assistants.) This acknowledgment reflects the communal sensibility of the workers themselves. This is not about hyper-individualism, or "making it"; it is about making some or just enough to send back to the family in the South. This is a Whitmanian sense of "adhesion," of the necessity of solidarity. It is an aesthetic of relationality.

There is joy, culture, and custom too. Children wear traditional dance costumes at the Santa Cruz Guelaguetza (190-191). Victoria de Jesús Ramírez weaves a reboso (shawl) on a traditional Triqui belt loom as a child looks over her shoulder to learn her skill (185). Trilingual Raymundo Guzmán, a farm worker from Oaxaca, intends, with his friend Miguel Villegas, to be the world's first Mixteco rappers (unnumbered photograph). He wants to be "a rapper with a conscience," like his idol Tupac Shakur, and to push up "like a flower that grew in concrete" (168).
Through his clear, concise writing, his informed captions, and his powerful photographs, David Bacon witnesses lives, not working human machines. He, too, is a harvester and a gleaner. What is the efficacy of his labor? His photographs are more than accumulations of decisive moments. They are about the work of photography to create spaces for alterable moments-when the understanding of the viewer shifts, when a particular visual epistemology expands. He asks us for deeper sight and insight, and a willingness to hear Raymundo Guzmán: "I want to live, not just survive . . . We have to move forward" (168).

JANET ZANDY, emerita professor, Rochester Institute of Technology, is the author of Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work (2004); Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi (2013), and other books on working-class culture.

NOTES 1. Florence Reece, interview by Kathy Kahn, "They Say Them Child Brides Don't Last," in Kathy Kahn, Hillbilly Women (New York: Avon Books, 1973), 4-11, quoted in American Working-Class Literature, An Anthology, ed. Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) 393-99. 2. See also David Bacon, The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (Oakland: University of California Press, 2004; Communities Without Borders: Images and Voices from the World of Migration (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006; Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008); and The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013). 3. Paul S. Taylor, "Mexicans North of the Rio Grande," Survey Graphic 19 (May 1931): 138-39, cited in Richard Steven Street, Everyone Had Cameras: Photography and Farmworkers in California, 1850-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 131. 4. John Berger, Portraits: John Berger on Artists, ed. Tom Overton (London: Verso, 2015), 54.

_______________________________________

In the Fields of the North/ En Los Campos del Norte by David Bacon.
Reviewed by Duane Campbell
Democratic Left
http://www.dsausa.org/in_the_fields_of_the_north_en_los_campos_del_norte

"WE are not animals. We are human beings."

In an impressive and important new book David Bacon effectively  counters the racism and xenophobia advanced by our current president and promoted in right-wing media   by providing hundreds of photos and  clear descriptions of the real life and work of the immigrants harvesting the food we eat. 

Bacon does so by interviewing farmworkers and photographing farmworkers in their "housing" and in their work.  He reports and records the humanity of the thousands of people who come north to harvest our crops and to feed their families as best they can.  In interviews and photos farm workers and their families tell their own stories with dignity and humanity.

Photo journalist David Bacon has a long history of documented the lives of immigrant people including the important books, Illegal People: How Globalization creates migration and criminalizes immigrants. (2008) and The Right to Stay Home:  How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  (Beacon Press, 2013)
http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2328 as well as in  a long list of journal articles.

In The Fields of the North, Bacon uses his extensive and award-winning photography to tell more of the story including interviews, narrative recording, and factual reporting in both English and Spanish.

This is not a book with some photos, rather it is a series of extended photo essays ( with over 300 photos)  showing that images and words have a combined power  far beyond either words or images by themselves.   In his writing and photographs Bacon tells the story of cycle of exploitation and poverty suffered by tens of thousands moving from season to season, working in the fields for sub minimum wages, and facing the racism and political power  of growers and  their labor contractors.

It is a unique fusion of journalism and documentary photography.  published jointly by the University of California Press and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte,  I doubt if such a work would have been published by a commercial press or an art press.

Through his long history of advocacy and activism, David Bacon is not neutral. Rather, he is committed to showing the humanity of his subjects- the mostly undocumented farm laborers of the California, Arizona, Texas, Oregon and Washington.

As a journalist, he compares prices for harvesting crops today, and in the 1960's to illustrate that the workers are more exploited today.  ( 28) Then, he adds photos to show you the lives of the people who suffer under these exploitive conditions.

In general, according to the author, farm labor today is paid more poorly than were workers in the 60's when the United Farm Workers union was organized and conducted their first strikes in the valleys of California.

Today many growers are "paying an illegal [subminimum] wage to tens of thousands of farm workers," Bacon says. Workers get about $1.50 for picking a flat of strawberries. "Each flat contains about eight plastic clamshell boxes, so a worker is paid about 20 cents to fill each one. That same box sells in a supermarket for three dollars...If the price of a clamshell box increased by five cents the wages of workers would increase by 25 percent."

While the United Farmworkers Union made an impressive gain in achieving unemployment benefits for farmworkers in the 1980's in California,  undocumented farmworkers cannot collect unemployment for the long periods when there are no crops to harvest.

Recent legislation increases the California minimum wages to  $10.50 per hour in 2017, on the way to  $15 per hour including all farmworkers in 2023, if it can be enforced where workers often paid by piece work such as in the berries.  Farm labor in most states is not covered by minimum wage laws,

Bacon's informative personal interviews and accounts reveal what today's life is like for a wide variety of migrant workers in grapes, berries, lettuce and a variety of crops we serve on our tables;  from living in caves, without housing, in river beds, cardboard shacks,  to living in the back seats of cars.  The photographs speak volumes.

While many readers are aware  of the wealth and the affluence of life in California cities, few recognize that these same cities are surrounded by agriculture -San Diego, Los Angeles, Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and much of the California Central Valley where you will find poverty rates as severe as any place in the nation.

Where doe your food come from?

The photo essays make the difference.  These people harvest our crops and feed us.  The work force is significantly female. Many suffer sexual assaults and exploitation which they too often endure in order to keep their jobs and feed their children.  These are excerpts from the personal tale told by  Lucrecia Camacho.

"I began working when I was nine years old.  In Culiacán I picked cotton.  I would get three pesos per day...From that time on, I have spent my entire life working.
When I was 13 my mother sold me to a young man and I was with him for eight months, I was soon pregnant.  After I started having children, they were always with me.

After I came to the U.S.I did the same thing.  I took them to the fields with me and built them a little shaded tent on the side of the field... I began working her in the fields of Oxnard when I first arrived in 1985, and I did it until last year. I already had 7 children by the time I got here." ( p. 252)

In the Fields of the North includes many similar, detail filled personal stories of pain and suffering along with photos of the subjects and their families.

Bacon records the significant shift in farm labor that accelerated in the 80's of Mexican indigenous people, speaking Mixtec, Triqui, and various languages as they were pushed out of their homes in the south of Mexico and moved into the U.S. migrant stream, largely in response to NAFTA.

Farm labor  has changed dramatically  since the 70's and 80's.  It is now  a new, mostly immigrant , often (Mexican) indigenous  population.  One of the important organizations discussed in the interviews is the Frente Indígena Oaxaqueña Binacional.

These photo essays  provides important contributions to understanding that we are experiencing a major restructuring of the global economy. This  economic restructuring (commonly known as neoliberalism)  is directed by the transnational corporations to produce profits for the corporate owners.  The impoverishment of the vast majority of people in pursuit of profits for a small minority has pushed millions to migrate from Africa, Asia and Latin America in search of food, jobs, and security.  Global capitalism produces global migration.  NAFTA  and other "Free Trade" deals each produce new waves of migration. 

A result is a situation in which workers on both sides of this border and around the world have been disempowered and impoverished. Workers everywhere  are forced to accept ever worsening wages and working conditions.

The problem in our economy is not immigration as Trump claims; the problem is our broken immigration laws that allow business to exploit workers who lack legal status, driving down wages for all workers.  If every immigrant were allowed to get into our system of labor law, pay their dues, and work legally , we could block the corporations' exploitation and eliminate much of the oppression in farm labor. But, that will not happen because poor people do not have political power.

The work of the UFW and of smaller independent unions is vital.  At the same time, H2A workers (guest workers)  are used to break efforts to form a union. The H2A program was established in 1986, to allow U.S. agricultural employers to hire workers in other countries, and bring them to the U.S. in response to an alleged labor shortage.

The battle for unionization at Sakuma Farms in Washington illustrates one of the problems of H2A programs.  This  alleged  labor shortage is in fact created by the restrictions of our broken immigration system and the current enhanced enforcement of ICE.  Use of H2A, or guest workers, rather than legal immigrants is the preferred form of immigration "reform" advanced by growers and the Republican party.

In both photos and essays Bacon describes the battle for unionization at Sakuma Farms in Washington that well illustrates one of the problems of H2A programs. Today Sakuma Farms is one of the largest berry growers in Washington.

In prior years, Sakuma Farms relied on local workers and migrants from California (mostly indigenous Mixtec and Triqui) to fill its 7-800 picking jobs at the peak of the harvest.
 In 2013 and 2014, the company applied to bring in H2A Workers. This year, another Washington berry grower, Sarbanand Farms, brought in over 500 H2-A workers, and working conditions were so bad that one worker died and 70 others went on strike.

Sakuma workers went on strike twice during the last year, seeking better wages and safe living conditions. Finally, the workers ratified a first contract this summer. If history follows the pattern of other farmworker contracts, the corporation will use the first opportunity it finds to break the contract (actually, it already has), while other growers like Sarbanand Farms bring in ever-larger numbers of H2A workers to prevent unionization.

"We can't leave things like this.  There is too much abuse. We are making them right and making ourselves poor.  It is not fair."  Rosario Ventura, a Sakuma Farms striker

The persistent poverty in the fields and the use of migrant labor as an exploitable resource   is a result of strategic racism, that is a system of racial oppression created and enforced because it benefits the over class- in this case corporate agriculture and farm owners.  It is a complex structure of institutions and individuals from police and sheriffs, to immigration authorities and anti-immigrant activists,  politicians and elected officials and their support networks. These groups foster and promote inter racial conflict, job competition, and anti-union organizing, as strategies to keep wages and benefits low and to promote their continuing hold on power and wealth.

It is corporate power that creates devastating poverty in Mexico and Central America and creates the conditions of "super-exploitation" for workers .  Faced with few jobs and more poverty, they toil under harsh conditions and with fewer rights in order to maximize profits for the foreign corporations and their domestic suppliers.  These conditions of super-exploitation push workers to  migrate to the U.S. without documentation.  Currently  they  lack legal protections  and basic labor protections while they live under the constant threat of deportation, making it very difficult to demand better working and living  conditions

Bacon helps us to see the exploitation and to hear the stories of the oppressed in this current wave of migration.  Today, for many  life is harder than before.  It is more temporary.   Since the vast majority of farm workers are now undocumented, mostly from Mexico, their exploitation has increased.

This labor force is all around us in California, Washington, Arizona ,Texas, across the Midwest and in the South,  but it is largely invisible. David Bacon's book and  photographs make them visible.






BOOK EVENTS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte


September 12, UC Berkeley Labor Center
6PM, 2521 Channing Way, Berkeley

September 13, Food to Farm Event
5:30PM, Guy West Plaza, Sacramento State University, Sacramento

September 15, Green Arcade Bookstore
7PM, 1680 Market Street, San Francisco









Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WHAT MOST PEOPLE SAW

WHAT MOST PEOPLE SAW
Photographs by David Bacon

Relying on the photographs, reporting and video in the mainstream media can give you a false idea about the marches and demonstrations against white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers in San Francisco and Berkeley last weekend.  The newsroom adage says, "if it bleeds it leads."  But screaming headlines about violence, and stories and images focused on scuffles, were not a good reality check. 

Mainstream coverage was miles away from the reality most people experienced.  One racist quoted for each counterprotestor ignored the fact that there were at most a few dozen of one, and many thousands of the other.  More important, where were the reasons why people came out to demonstrate against racism and rightwing politics?  How did people organize their broad constituencies of faith and labor, communities of color, women and immigrants?

In the confrontations between a tiny number of white supremacists and a very small number of demonstrators, the photographers who chased them sometimes outnumbered those involved.  At those same moments, hundreds of Black, Latino, Asian and white church people were marching up Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  The two banners of the Democratic Socialists of America (one all the way from Santa Cruz) stretched across the four lanes of the avenue.  Where were the photographers? In San Francisco thousands marched up Market Street.  I saw fewer photographers there than at any march in recent memory.

Making the scufflers so visible makes everyone else invisible.  Sure, editors choose what to put on the page or website.  But as media workers we can also see what's real and what's not.
















BOOK EVENTS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte



September 5, Living Wage Coalition
6PM, 2940 16th Street, Room 301 San Francisco

September 12, UC Berkeley Labor Center
6PM, 2521 Channing Way, Berkeley

September 13, Food to Farm Event
5:30PM, Guy West Plaza, Sacramento State University, Sacramento

September 15, Green Arcade Bookstore
7PM, 1680 Market Street, San Francisco

September 20, Commonwealth Club
With Jose Padilla, Executive Director, California Rural Legal Assistance
6PM, 555 Post Street, San Francisco

Sunday, August 13, 2017

TWO REVIEWS - IN THE FIELDS OF THE NORTH / EN LOS CAMPOS DEL NORTE

TWO REVIEWS - IN THE FIELDS OF THE NORTH / EN LOS CAMPOS DEL NORTE

Review: In the Fields of the North (En los campos del norte)
August 08, 2017 / Eve Ottenberg
Labornotes
http://labornotes.org/blogs/2017/08/review-fields-north-en-los-campos-del-norte




In the Fields of the North/En los campos del norte
By David Bacon
(University of California Press / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte; 302 photographs, 450 pages; $34.95 paperback)


David Bacon's unforgettable new English-Spanish photo-essay, In the Fields of the North (En los campos del norte), is about migrant farm workers on the West Coast. Bacon says that without unions, the state of affairs in the fruit and vegetable fields would be even sorrier.

Mexican blueberry picker Honesto Silva Ibarra died in Washington state on Sunday after complaining of headaches but being forced by his supervisor to return to work in the blazing sun. He ended up in a coma. When 70 of his co-workers struck Sarbanand Farms to protest Silva's treatment, they were fired the next day and within an hour were thrown out of their company-owned housing.

Such situations are typical of those found in David Bacon's remarkable new English-Spanish photo-essay, In the Fields of the North (En los campos del norte), about migrant farm workers on the West Coast. The main takeaway from the book is that if the United Farm Workers were a stronger union, tragedies like this would not occur. But it should also be said that without the UFW and smaller independent unions like Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice), the state of affairs in the fruit and vegetable fields of the West would be even sorrier.

Still, most farm workers don't have a union yet, and many of those who do have not had a contract for a long time.

WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

This book contains unforgettable photographs. There is one of farm workers from the Gallo ranch in Sonoma Valley, who "cross arms, hold hands and sing at the end of a meeting to protest the unwillingness of the company to sign a union contract. Holding hands and singing at the end of a meeting is part of the culture of the United Farm Workers."

And these workers, mainly indigenous people from Mexico, have lots to protest. As Lucrecia Camacho recalls: "I would tie my young children to a stake in the dirt while I worked and I tried to work very fast, so that the foreman would give me an opportunity to nurse my child...I've always been alone, a single mother of ten children...The strawberry harvest...[is] hard. I don't wish that kind of work on my worst enemy."

The labor is arduous, the living conditions atrocious: workers describe how they sleep out in the open, under trees or tarps. Explaining what led to one strike in Washington, Rosario Ventura says: "We were upset about the conditions in the labor camp. The mattress they gave us was torn and dirty, and the wire was coming out and poked us...There were cockroaches and rats. The roof leaked when it rained...All my children's clothes were wet."

Eventually, because of the strike, the company agreed to some of the workers' demands.

The photographs of the shacks, tents, trailers, and tarps the workers live in and under are powerful-the need for decent housing everywhere evident. These hovels often stand right next to luxurious upper-middle-class abodes, separated only by a low wall or path. "We're the first trailer park to have the owners legally removed," says Elisa Guevara, who leads Mexican farm workers protesting bad living conditions. "When people realize they don't have to be quiet and afraid, then change will happen."

PARTISAN ART

As Laura Velasco Ortiz writes in the book's afterword, David Bacon is a "partisan artist." He himself elaborates: "Eighty years ago, many photographers were political activists and saw their work intimately connected to worker strikes, political revolution or the movements for indigenous peoples' rights...I don't claim to be an unbiased observer. I'm on the side of immigrant workers and unions in the United States." His new book highlights resistance and solidarity, but it also exposes injustice and details the exploitation of the people who put food on our tables.

Today growers are "paying an illegal [subminimum] wage to tens of thousands of farm workers," Bacon says. Workers get about $1.50 for picking a flat of strawberries. "Each flat contains about eight plastic clamshell boxes, so a worker is paid about 20 cents to fill each one. That same box sells in a supermarket for three dollars...If the price of a clamshell box increased by five cents (a suggestion made by the UFW during the Watsonville strawberry organizing drive of the late 1990s), the wages of workers would increase by 25 percent."

Workers are thus cheated of a fair wage. They are also threatened with deportation, if they complain, and they have no work in winter. But coming from 13 Mexican states, they speak 23 languages and have strong community ties. As Bacon points out, these bonds are key to their efforts to organize.

Romulo Muñoz Vazquez recalls: "I was beaten at work five years ago on a ranch by the freeway in San Diego. The boss asked us why we weren't working hard. I told him we weren't animals and we had rights. I still remember everything they did to me afterwards...On May Day we've decided not to go to work...We must organize ourselves in order to move ahead."

LIVE, NOT JUST SURVIVE

Most migrants crossing the border today are, typically, about 20 years old. In the chapter, "I'm Going to Be a Rapper with a Conscience," Raymundo Guzman, a young farm worker from Oaxaca who lives in a trailer in Fresno, explains: "I really didn't like to work in the fields when I was in school. I still don't like it, but we have to do it."

He speaks Mixteco, Spanish, and English. "I graduated from high school," he says. "I was the first in my family to do it, my mother was so proud that she threw me a party...but I felt sad...because I didn't know what to do with my diploma, I didn't know where to go and nobody at school helped me." He describes picking grapes in the dizzying heat, and the pain in his knees and back from bending over to pick strawberries all day. "I want to live, not just survive," says Guzman.

Farm workers have difficulty just getting decent clean water. Arsenic contaminates the drinking water of migrants in Lanare, California, an issue around which residents have organized. Another problem is rampant sexual abuse at work and gender discrimination in hiring. But job insecurity remains one of the biggest issues.

"I know one [foreman] who only hires immigrants without papers, because she says legal residents complain too much," Lucrecia Camacho reports. "It's always based on if they like you or not, we just have to put our heads down and work quietly." Speaking of the cost of living, she goes on: "The more we earn, they more they take away. We can't move forward...if I didn't work fast, I was fired immediately."

Everyone in this book who is asked thinks a union would help. "When I was working for [the UFW]," says Andres Cruz, leader of a Triqui immigrant farm worker community, "a group of workers...told me that the company they worked for was firing people every day, this company wanted each worker to pick 250 pounds of peas daily...their hands were so swollen and cut...Sometimes organizing a strike takes three to four days, but in some cases, we can organize in one day...When [our community decides] to do something collectively, they are very united."

That is why the work of the UFW and of smaller independent unions is vital. (After many strikes, Familias Unidas por la Justicia ratified a first contract this summer with Sakuma Bros. Berry Farms in Washington.) So are groups like California Rural Legal Assistance and indigenous movements like La Nación Purepecha. And so are publications like In the Fields of the North.


______________________________________




'Chasing the Harvest' and 'In the Fields of the North'
Review by Elaine Elinson
SF Gate, July 19, 2017
http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Chasing-the-Harvest-and-In-the-Fields-of-11298697.php

In the Fields of the North/En los campos del norte
By David Bacon
(University of California Press / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte; 302 photographs, 450 pages; $34.95 paperback)

Chasing the Harvest
Edited by Gabriel Thompson
(Verso; 320 pages; $24.95 paperback)


In 1946, Carlos Bulosan documented the gritty lives of Filipino migrant workers in California in his autobiographical novel "America Is in the Heart."

Since that time, there have been a wealth of books about California farmworkers, from Steinbeck's iconic "Grapes of Wrath" to Peter Matthiesen's "Sal Si Puedes," published at the height of the Delano grape strike, to Matthew Garcia's recent "From the Jaws of Victory," with revelations from an excavation of United Farm Workers archives.

Yet aside from Bulosan's groundbreaking work seven decades ago, the stories have been told by outsiders - albeit excellent journalists and observers - not by farmworkers themselves.

Two new books, "Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture," edited by Gabriel Thompson, and "In the Fields of the North/ En los campos del norte," by David Bacon, change that pattern.

They come at a crucial time: One third of the nation's agricultural workers, about 800,000 people, are in California. Though the crops they harvest yield $47 billion dollars annually, their average annual income is $14,000. They face chronic arthritis from stoop labor, pesticide poisoning and heat stroke.

Today, 70 percent of the farm workers were born in Mexico, and many travel with their families and fellow villagers from Oaxaca, Michoacán and Guerrero. They speak Mixteco, Triqui and 20 other indigenous languages; many don't know Spanish at all. "We are the invisible of the invisible," Fausto Sanchez, a Mixteco, told Thompson. Sanchez worked the onion fields and orange groves and is now an advocate with California Rural Legal Assistance living in Arvin, a whisper of a town south of Bakersfield where Steinbeck once did research.

Thompson's book, a collection of 17 oral histories, is part of the innovative Voice of Witness series. An award-winning journalist, Thompson is the author of "America's Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century."

Roberto Valdez, a 48-year-old farmworker who lives in a trailer with his family in Thermal, in Riverside County, took cell phone videos in the scorching fields after his teenage son almost died from heatstroke. "No one comes out here, no one knows what we go through," he says.

Valdez became an advocate for safe conditions, even testifying before the state Legislature: "The hands that you see are the hands that harvest the lemons you use to make the lemonade you are now drinking. The strawberries that your children eat, we cut them. We're dying out there in the fields."

Valdez's testimony and videos helped win the passage of regulations protecting workers from extreme heat. But, as Thompson notes, "widespread violations - and death in the fields - continue."

Rosario Pelayo, a 77-year-old great-grandmother of 21 from Calexico, proudly shows Thompson a photo that appeared in El Malcriado, the UFW newspaper, when she was arrested during the grape strike in 1974. "There were days when the only thing we had out on the picket lines was a bottle of water and one taco. And I still haven't lost the spirit."

She recounts facing Teamsters who menaced picketers with tire irons, chains and pruning shears. Yet she was one of the workers who was ousted from the UFW convention when she sought a seat on the executive board.

Though Pelayo harbors some resentment, she still feels proud of the UFW's accomplishments. "I saw so many injustices in the field. They used to treat the farmworkers as if they were slaves. We didn't get breaks. There were no bathrooms in the fields. We needed a union and to get it we had to fight with all our hearts."

Thompson notes that, thanks to the UFW, California still has the only law in the country that protects the right of farmworkers to unionize, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975.

Bacon's comprehensive bilingual volume also includes oral histories, as well as analytical essays and hundreds of black-and-white photos. A former union organizer, Bacon is the author of "The Children of NAFTA and Illegal People," and his photos have been exhibited in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. Bacon describes his work as "not objective but partisan, documenting social reality is part of the movement for social change."

Ironically, despite using a more diverse array of documentation, Bacon may have chosen a more challenging path. As photographer Teju Cole asserts, "Photography is particularly treacherous when it comes to righting wrongs because it is so good at recording appearances. ... It's not about taking something that belongs to someone else and making it serve you, but rather about recognizing that history is brutal and unfinished and finding some way, within that recognition, to serve the dispossessed."

The poignant photographs in Bacon's collection meet that call. Avoiding both sensationalism and sentimentality, the photos reveal not only the workers' desperate poverty, but also the dignity of their toil and their consuming effort to provide a better life for their children.

The inside look at the migrants' "informal housing" is deeply disturbing. We see families crammed in tiny trailers and dilapidated plywood shacks, covered by tarps or sin techo (without a roof) hastily thrown up in orchards or fields. The growers allow them to stay in exchange for protecting the crops. Clusters of shacks outside city limits lack sewage, electricity and water treatment, forcing the residents to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. They bathe in irrigation ditches, polluted by runoff of pesticides and fertilizers.

Bacon's photos are most captivating when he focuses on people's faces and calloused hands as they prune vines, cut lettuce and sort strawberries. In accompanying captions, they remember precisely how many buckets of jalapenos, blueberries or tomatoes they picked, how much they weighed and how much they earned per bucket.

Bacon also captures moments that brighten the lives of the workers. Raymundo Guzman, a trilingual rapper in baggy shorts and unlaced sneakers, entertains from a makeshift stage in a labor camp. Mothers embroider intricate designs on blouses for their daughters to wear when they perform traditional dances at fiestas. Bright-eyed Mixtec children show off their drawings and sing with their teachers in Migrant Head Start. And workers march under banners reading "Respect," and "United Without Borders" as they renew the arduous effort of union organizing.

Both Bacon and Thompson bring us one step closer to Bulosan's masterful novel, providing not just an intimate, but an insider look, at the lives of California's farmworkers.


Elaine Elinson, coauthor of "Wherever There's a Fight," represented the United Farm Workers in Europe during the grape strike and boycott.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

BRACEROS ORGANIZAN DESPUES DE UN TRABAJADOR MUERE

BRACEROS ORGANIZAN DESPUES DE UN TRABAJADOR MUERE
The American Prospect, 08/08/17
https://davidbaconrealitycheck.blogspot.com/2017/08/braceros-strike-after-one-worker-dies.html
http://prospect.org/
Traducido por Jose Gonzalez


Recoger arándanos en una granja del estado de Washington. Correr el riesgo de expulsión, los trabajadores agrícolas del estado de Washington protestar por las condiciones peligrosas en los campos



La muerte de un trabajador agrícola en los campos de asar el estado de Washington ha llevado a sus compañeros de braceros para poner sus medios de vida en peligro por ir a la huelga, afiliarse a un sindicato, ser dado de alta - y correr el riesgo de ser deportados.

Honesto Silva Ibarra murió en el hospital Harborview en Seattle el domingo por la noche, el 6 de agosto Silva, casado y padre de tres hijos, era un trabajador invitado - en español, un "contratado" - traído a los Estados Unidos bajo la A-H2 programa de visas, para trabajar en los campos.

Miguel Angel Ramirez Salazar, otro contratado, dice Silva fue a su supervisor en Sarbanand Granjas la semana pasada, quejándose de que estaba enfermo y no podía trabajar. "Me dijeron que si no guardó trabajo que estaría despedido por 'abandono de trabajo.' Pero después de un tiempo que no podía trabajar en absoluto ".

Silva finalmente fue a la Clínica de Bellingham, a una hora al sur de la granja en la que estaba trabajando, en Sumas, cerca de la frontera con Canadá. Para entonces ya era demasiado tarde, sin embargo. Fue enviado a Harborview, donde se desplomó y murió.

La muerte de Silva fue el último empujón que empujó a los CONTRATADOS en una acción sin precedentes en la historia moderna de mano de obra agrícola. Se organizaron y protestaron, y cuando fueron disparados por ello, se unieron nueva unión del estado de Washington para los trabajadores agrícolas, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Como este artículo está siendo escrito, 120 trabajadores H2A están sentados en tiendas de campaña en una parcela de tierra cerca del rancho en el que trabajaban, en protesta por el trato y los derechos de los trabajadores huéspedes exigentes.

En el sitio web de la CSI de procesamiento de visas, que reclutó Silva, Ramírez y otros para trabajar en Sarbanand Farms, una declaración dice lo siguiente: "El compañero que está hospitalizado, la causa fue la meningitis, una enfermedad que sufría de antes, y no está relacionado con su trabajo." Ramírez y otros trabajadores dudan de la explicación. Silva había estado trabajando en los EE.UU. desde mayo, y no llegó con síntomas de meningitis. En cambio, insisten en que fue la consecuencia de las malas condiciones cada vez más en el rancho.

Según Ramón Torres, presidente de Familias Unidas por la Justicia, los trabajadores H2-A en Sarbanand granjas se habían quejado durante semanas sobre la mala alimentación, las temperaturas en los años 90 con ninguna sombra, agua potable caliente y baños sucios en los campos. En las últimas dos semanas, el aire cerca de la frontera se convirtió en humo de los incendios forestales, al norte de Canadá, lo que hace que sea difícil respirar. Algunos trabajadores se desmayaron en medio de las plantas de arándanos donde estaban recogiendo.

Cuando Silva se derrumbó y fue al hospital, un grupo fue a la gestión del rancho y pidió más seguras condiciones de trabajo. Cuando fueron rechazados, organizaron una huelga de un día el viernes, 4 de agosto Familias Unidas por la Justicia, que acaba de firmar su primer contrato de unión con Sakuma Brothers Farms en las cercanías de Burlington, celebró su primera convención que el viernes. Cuando los trabajadores H2-A vinieron de Sarbanand Granjas, decidieron unirse.

Al día siguiente, 70 fueron despedidos. "Le dijeron a todos nosotros en el paro fuimos despedidos por insubordinación," otro trabajador, Barbaro Rosas Olibares, dijo el organizador FUJ Maru Mora Villapando en una entrevista en video. La declaración de CSI insiste: "Once personas fueron despedidos por cuestiones de insubordinación, que es una causa legal".

Aunque la mayoría de los trabajadores en los EE.UU. están cubiertos por las leyes que hacen tales represalia por golpear una violación legal, los trabajadores agrícolas en general, no tienen esa protección, excepto en los pocos estados, como California, que han dado a los trabajadores agrícolas de esos derechos. Trabajadores con visas H2-A tienen incluso menos derechos y protecciones. La visa se les da cuando vienen a trabajar en los EE.UU. ellas se une al empleador que los reclutó. Si pierden ese trabajo, pierden la visa y se vuelven a deportación. No tienen capacidad legal para demandar a su empleador en un tribunal de Estados Unidos.

Por consiguiente, era notable que no sólo lo hicieron los trabajadores Sarbanand huelga en protesta por las malas condiciones, pero que después de que fueron despedidos no abandonaban el país. La compañía dijo a los trabajadores despedidos que no pagarían inmediatamente por sus últimos cuatro días de trabajo, sino que enviaría un cheque a su domicilio en México - una violación de las normas H2-A. Los trabajadores se les dio una hora para limpiar sus pertenencias fuera del campo de trabajo de la empresa, lo que les deja fuera de pie, sin dinero.

Reclutador de Sarbanand, CSI tramitación de visados, se llevó a algunos a una estación de autobuses local, pero no los compran un boleto de regreso. Esto viola otra H2-A regulación de la contratación, lo que requiere de selección de personal para pagar el transporte hacia y desde el lugar de trabajo en los Estados Unidos. Mientras tanto, los trabajadores se acercaron a presidente del sindicato Torres y también a Community2Community, una organización de defensa de los trabajadores agrícolas y los derechos de los inmigrantes en el noroeste de Washington. Juntos, encontraron una residencia privada cerca de la ubicación Sarbanand, cuyos propietarios acordado dejar el campo de los trabajadores despedidos en sus tierras al decidir sobre su próximo curso de acción. Partidarios locales llevaron a cabo tiendas de campaña y un generador, y un campamento rápidamente surgieron.

Los trabajadores marcharon de regreso al rancho y se manifestaron frente. "Se formó un comité de entre ellos mismos," Torres dice, "y otros 50 trabajadores abandonaron el rancho y se unieron a ellos, a pesar de que la [Sheriff del condado de Whatcom] diputados y policías locales estaban amenazando con llamar a inmigración."

Torres dice que otros trabajadores han sufrido de parálisis facial parcial, y tres están ahora viviendo en el campo. En el vídeo de la entrevista, Rosas Olibares llevó a cabo una pancarta denunciando las autoridades locales para hacer la vista gorda a sus condiciones. Se lee:

Condado y la ciudad - Su ceguera = CULPABLE
- Supresión de los derechos de los trabajadores inmigrantes
-Los trabajadores abierto a las amenazas de deportación!
Trabajadores -Immigrant muriendo aquí / EMPRESA
Condado y la ciudad - Usted son cómplices por negligencia!
¿Como duermes en la noche?

De acuerdo con H2-Un trabajador Ramírez, "Sólo queremos respeto a nuestros derechos -. Disparando nosotros era muy injusta También queremos seguir trabajando hasta el final de nuestro contrato." Ramírez ha estado trabajando como contratado durante 15 años, recogiendo tabaco en Carolina del Norte y Kentucky, y durante los últimos dos años, los arándanos en el noroeste del estado de Washington. El invierno pasado firmó un contrato en la oficina de la CSI Visa Procesadores en su ciudad natal de Santiago Ixcuintla en el estado mexicano de Nayarit. Bajo los términos del contrato que se le garantizó un mínimo de cinco meses de trabajo, hasta el 25 de octubre.

A continuación, Ramírez fue llevado a Nogales, en la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México y se le dio una visa. "Pero vi que era sólo es bueno hasta el 30 de junio", recuerda. "Cuando le pregunté, me dijeron que habían solucionarlo. Pero nunca lo hicieron."

Más de 250 trabajadores fueron reclutados en la oficina Nayarit, dice, una de las nueve de la CSI tiene en México. Fueron llevados a Delano, en el Valle de San Joaquín en California, el 7 de mayo Allí empezaron recogiendo arándanos en Munger Farms, un gran productor y socio en el gigante Naturipe productores asociación. Luego, el 1 de julio, el día después de la visa de Ramírez y muchos otros expirado, que fueron transportados al rancho Sarbanand granjas en el estado de Washington, donde continuaron recogiendo. Sarbanand es una filial de Munger Granjas, propiedad de la familia de Baldev y Kable Munger.

La declaración de CSI insiste en que los trabajadores "recibió una autorización por parte del gobierno de los EE.UU. para este segundo contrato, [y] ninguno de ellos está fuera de estatus legal." Sin embargo, después de la agitación comenzó la semana pasada, un trabajador trató de comprar un billete de avión de vuelta a casa a México, y fue rechazada porque su visa había expirado. "No sabemos qué va a pasar ahora", dice Torres. "Lo que creemos es que los trabajadores tienen derecho a protestar y organizar, y no deben ser castigados por que al ser negado el trabajo que se les prometió."

"Creo que tenemos para organizarse", añade Ramírez. "Estoy dispuesto a trabajar duro, pero pongo tal presión sobre nosotros - ese es el mayor problema que tengo un hijo de 16 años de edad, de vuelta a casa en México ¿Qué le pasaría si muriera aquí, como Honesto hizo..? "



En los Campos del Norte / En los Campos del Norte
Fotografías y texto por David Bacon
University of California Press / El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BRACEROS ORGANIZE AFTER ONE WORKER DIES

BRACEROS ORGANIZE AFTER ONE WORKER DIES
By David Bacon
The American Prospect, 8/8/17
http://prospect.org/


Picking blueberries on a Washington State farm.  Risking deportation, Washington state farmworkers protest dangerous conditions in the fields


A farmworker's death in the broiling fields of Washington state has prompted his fellow braceros to put their livelihoods in jeopardy by going on strike, joining a union, being discharged - and risking deportation.

Honesto Silva Ibarra died in Harborview hospital in Seattle on Sunday night, August 6.  Silva, a married father of three, was a guest worker - in Spanish, a "contratado" - brought to the United States under the H2-A visa program, to work in the fields.

Miguel Angel Ramirez Salazar, another contratado, says Silva went to his supervisor at Sarbanand Farms last week, complaining that he was sick and couldn't work.  "They said if he didn't keep working he'd be fired for 'abandoning work.' But after a while he couldn't work at all." 

Silva finally went to the Bellingham Clinic, about an hour south of the farm where he was working, in Sumas, close to the Canadian border.  By then it was too late, however.  He was sent to Harborview, where he collapsed and died.

Silva's death was the final shove that pushed the contratados into an action unprecedented in modern farm labor history.  They organized and protested, and when they were fired for it, they joined Washington State's new union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia.  As this article is being written, 120 H2A workers are sitting in tents on a patch of land near the ranch where they worked, protesting their treatment and demanding rights for guest workers.

On the website of CSI Visa Processing, which recruited Silva, Ramirez and others to work at Sarbanand Farms, a statement reads: "The compañero who is hospitalized, the cause was meningitis, an illness he suffered from before, and is not related to his work."  Ramirez and other workers doubt that explanation.  Silva had been working in the U.S. since May, and did not arrive with symptoms of meningitis.  Instead, they insist that it was the consequence of increasingly bad conditions at the ranch. 

According to Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, H2-A workers at Sarbanand Farms had been complaining for weeks about bad food, temperatures in the 90s with no shade, warm drinking water and dirty bathrooms in the fields.  In the last two weeks, the air near the border became smoky from forest fires just to the north in Canada, making it hard to breathe.  Some workers fainted amid the blueberry plants where they were picking.

 When Silva collapsed and went to the hospital, a group went to the ranch management and asked for safer working conditions.  When they were turned away, they organized a one-day strike on Friday, August 4.  Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which just signed its first union contract with Sakuma Brothers Farms in nearby Burlington, held its first convention that Friday.  When the H2-A workers came from Sarbanand Farms, they decided to join.

The following day, 70 were fired.  "They told all of us in the work stoppage we were fired for insubordination," another worker, Barbaro Rosas Olibares, told FUJ organizer Maru Mora Villapando in a video interview.  The CSI statement insists: "Eleven people were fired for questions of insubordination, which is a legal cause."

While most workers in the U.S. are covered by laws that make such retaliation for striking a legal violation, farmworkers generally have no such protection except in the few states, like California, that have given agricultural workers those rights.  H2-A workers have even fewer rights and protections.  The visa they're given when they come to work in the U.S. binds them to the employer who recruited them.  If they lose that job, they lose the visa and become deportable.  They have no legal standing to sue their employer in a U.S. court.

It was therefore remarkable that not only did the Sarbanand workers strike in protest over bad conditions, but that after they were fired they did not leave the country.  The company told the fired workers they would not pay them immediately for their final four days of work, but instead would send a check to their address in Mexico -- a violation of H2-A regulations. The workers were given an hour to clear their belongings out of the company's labor camp, leaving them standing outside with no money.

Sarbanand's recruiter, CSI Visa Processing, took some to a local bus station, but didn't buy them a ticket home.  This violates another H2-A recruitment regulation, which requires recruiters to pay transportation to and from the jobsite in the United States.  In the meantime, workers reached out to union president Torres and also to Community2Community, a farmworker advocacy and immigrant rights organization in northwest Washington.  Together, they found a private residence near the Sarbanand location, whose owners agreed to let the fired workers camp on their land while deciding on their next course of action.  Local supporters brought out tents and a generator, and an encampment quickly sprang up.

The workers marched back to the ranch and demonstrated outside.  "They formed a committee among themselves," Torres says, "and another 50 workers left the ranch and joined them, even though the [Whatcom County Sheriff] deputies and local police were threatening to call immigration."

Torres says other workers have suffered from partial facial paralysis, and three are now living at the camp.  In the video interview, Rosas Olibares held a placard denouncing local authorities for turning a blind eye to their conditions. It read:

County & City - Your Blindness = GUILTY
- Suppression of immigrant workers rights
-Workers open to threats of deportation!
-Immigrant workers dying HERE/NOW
County & City - You are complicit through neglect!
How do you sleep at night?

According to H2-A worker Ramirez, "We just want respect for our rights - firing us was very unjust.  We also want to continue working until the end of our contract."  Ramirez has been working as a contratado for 15 years, picking tobacco in North Carolina and Kentucky, and for the last two years, blueberries in northwest Washington State.  Last winter he signed a contract in the office of CSI Visa Processors in his hometown of Santiago Ixcuintla in the Mexican state of Nayarit.  Under the terms of that contract he was guaranteed a minimum of five months of work, until October 25.

Ramirez was then taken to Nogales on the U.S.-Mexico border and given a visa.  "But I saw that it was only good until June 30," he recalls.  "When I asked, they said they'd fix it.  But they never did." 

Over 250 workers were recruited in the Nayarit office, he says, one of nine that CSI has in Mexico.  They were brought to Delano, in California's San Joaquin Valley, on May 7.  There they began picking blueberries at Munger Farms, a large grower and partner in the giant Naturipe growers partnership.  Then, on July 1, the day after the visa of Ramirez and many others expired, they were transported to the Sarbanand Farms ranch in Washington State, where they continued picking.  Sarbanand is a subsidiary of Munger Farms, owned by the family of Baldev and Kable Munger.

CSI's statement insists the workers "received an authorization by the government of the U.S. for this second contract, [and] none of them are out of legal status."  Yet after the turmoil started last week, one worker tried to buy an airline ticket back home to Mexico, and was refused because his visa had expired.  "We don't know what will happen now," Torres says.  "What we believe is that workers have the right to protest and organize, and shouldn't be punished for that by being denied the work they were promised."

"I think we have to get organized," Ramirez adds.  "I'm willing to work hard, but they put such pressure on us - that's the biggest problem. I have a 16-year-old son back home in Mexico.  What would happen to him if I died here, like Honesto did?"

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WHY UNIONS AND ORGANIC FARMING ARE GOOD FOR THE AGING FARMWORKERS OF COACHELLA VALLEY, AND COULD HELP SAVE THE SALTON SEA

WHY UNIONS AND ORGANIC FARMING ARE GOOD FOR THE AGING FARMWORKERS OF COACHELLA VALLEY, AND COULD HELP SAVE THE SALTON SEA
By David Bacon
Capital and Main, 8/2/17
https://capitalandmain.com/coachella-rising-0802
The American Prospect
http://prospect.org/




Jose Cruz Frias, a "palmero," works in a grove of date palms. Once up in the tree he walks around on the fronds themselves. Cruz has been doing this work for 15 years. He originally came to the Coachella Valley from Irapuato, Guanajuato in Mexico.


Forty one years ago I was a young organizer for the United Farm Workers in the Coachella Valley, helping agricultural laborers win union elections and negotiate contracts. Suspicion of growers was a survival attitude. I was beaten by the son of one rancher in a vineyard, while trying to talk to people sitting in the vines on their lunch hour. When I met with workers in another field, my old Plymouth Valiant convertible was filled with fertilizer and its tires slashed.

By those standards, I could see that HMS Ranch Management, which manages day-to-day operations for ranch owners, was different. I'm sure Ole Fogh-Andersen, who ran the company, would have preferred that the laborers he employed voted against the union. But when they did vote for it in 1976, he sat down and negotiated. It took quite a while - he was no pushover. But Ruth Shy, a former nun who taught the virtues of patience and persistence, got most of our union committee's demands into the agreement. I did the field job of keeping everyone on board.

HMS workers irrigate fields, drive tractors and otherwise care for ranches in this harsh, beautiful desert valley. In the summer's 105-plus degree heat, the bright green leaves of grape vines shimmer below dark mountains, lunar in their sere, sharp edges. Coachella's winter air is thick with the fragrance of flowering grapefruit and tangerine trees. In the groves of the valley's unique crop - the date palms - dusty green and tan fronds create an arched ceiling over marching rows of bare trunks, rising 20 and 30 feet from the sand.

I've returned to the Coachella Valley many times in the last three decades, interviewing workers and photographing impoverished desert communities. Despite its beauty, the sustainability of large-scale farming, and of the communities that depend on it, is more clearly at risk here than anywhere I know. Published accounts of the valley's huge environmental problems offer some insight. But my interest is in the world as it's seen by the people working in it. Their biggest unanswered question is: sustainable for whom?

This spring I was driving up a rural road in Oasis, not far from the Salton Sea, when I met Rafael Navarro, busy trapping moles on an organic mango ranch. I wasn't surprised that he worked for HMS - many maintenance workers on ranches are HMS employees. But then he told me he'd been hired in 1976. He was there when we negotiated that first agreement.



Rafael Navarro, 72 years old, still works as a farmworker. He works in a grove of organic Keitt mango trees, belonging to Ava's Mangos, the largest mango grower in California. Among other jobs, he sets traps for moles, which eat the roots of the trees.


"That was the year people joined Cesar Chavez's union," he recalled. "From then until today we've been working under the union contract. It is very rare that someone can work in the fields, and keep working for one company for 40 years. Here we have been protected. It has a lot to do with the contract because it is not that easy to fire someone, unless you are drinking or you get in a fight. But if you don't have those problems you work here very comfortably."

The contract provides a medical plan, still a rarity for farmworkers. Pushed by the union, Cal-OSHA now enforces standards that provide shade from the fierce sun and heat, drinking water and some control over pesticides.

The mango ranch, however, is organic, so non-organic pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals can't be used. That means at work Navarro doesn't run the risk of chemical exposure, one of the greatest occupational health dangers for farmworkers. It also provides him work.

"My job is catching moles," he told me, "because they eat the roots of the mango trees. It is an organic orchard, so they can't use chemicals to kill the animals. We put traps with strong wires in their holes.  When a moles arrives it gets trapped and you grab it."



Since it is a grove of organic trees, the grower can't use pesticides or poison to kill animals. This means relatively constant work for Navarro in eliminating pests, and a regular paycheck.


Navarro is 72, well beyond the age when other workers can retire and get Social Security, but he continues working although he has problems with one of his legs. Bending his stiff joints, he took a shovel and, in the weeds, dug out the entrance to a mole burrow to show me how he places the trap. The sun on the brim of his sombrero cast dark shadows across his face, highlighting his big bigote (mustache).

"They gave me the chance to do this job," he explained, "but before, I worked fumigating the date palms on other ranches with sulfur, or spraying with different medicines. Then they decided some chemicals were too dangerous and took that work away."

The Coachella Valley produces about $500 million in farm produce every year, and dates, grapes, citrus and tree fruit account for about half. Organic agriculture produces a growing part of it. According to Linden Anderson, who manages HMS's field operations, mango growing is only a decade old. About 10 percent of mangoes and the much larger citrus crop are grown organically.

"It takes more work, its costs are higher and it's less efficient, but what drives it is return on investment," he explained to me in a phone interview. "Some growers like it for itself, but there is a growing market for organic produce, and while the premium isn't as big as it used to be, there's still a differential."



A ravine carries agricultural runoff into the Salton Sea.


The growth of organic agriculture, and the elimination of the use of some pesticides, has another impact on the valley's ecology and on the health of its communities. The runoff from irrigation in both the Coachella Valley, and the Imperial Valley to the south, flows into the Salton Sea, carrying with it whatever chemicals growers are using. Irrigation also dissolves naturally-occurring salts from the desert soil, increasing the salinity of the water table. Tile lines placed five to six feet below the surface to drain excess water can carry those leached-out salts, contributing them to the runoff as well.

In past decades, Coachella Valley growers would irrigate by simply flooding the rows between vines, trees or plants with water, and then collecting the runoff. Today, Anderson says, most use drip irrigation, which uses less water and targets it more closely to the plants. Reduced water use creates less runoff as well.

Nevertheless, the Coachella and Imperial valleys face an environmental crisis created over decades.  Both valleys lie in an ancient geologic depression that reaches a depth of 278 feet below sea level. In 1905, as Imperial Valley growers were building a system to bring nearby Colorado River water to irrigate their ranches, the levees built to contain the diversion failed. For two years the river poured into the depression, creating the Salton Sea, whose surface rose to over 80 feet above the desert floor.

Both valleys are dependent on Colorado River water.  Without it agriculture here would hardly exist. Until 1949 Coachella ranches depleted the aquifer during dry years, and their wells would run out. Then the Coachella Canal began bringing 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado to the valley each year. The All-American Canal, built even earlier, drained the Colorado into Imperial Valley fields. After the 1960s, the State Water Project also gave Coachella farmers an even bigger allotment of water brought down from the north.



The branches and stumps of dead trees that were once on the shore emerge from the water.


Evaporation would eventually have dried out the sea, but in 1928 Congress designated land below -220 feet as a repository for agricultural runoff. Until recently, the lake's surface has been about -227 feet, giving it an area of 378 square miles - the largest lake in California. The Salton Sea became an important stopping point for birds migrating on the Pacific Flyway, and was stocked with fish species including corvina, sargo and bairdella. Tilapia introduced to control algae in irrigation canals also wound up in the lake.

Over the years the Salton Sea's salinity increased, however, from 3,500 parts per million to 52,000 ppm - about 50 percent saltier than the ocean. Fish, except the tilapia, died off.  Dissolved selenium salts now pose the same danger seen in the Kesterson Reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley, where birds ingesting selenium became sick and died, and laid eggs with shells so fragile they collapsed.

Even more seriously, starting next January, water flowing into the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley will be diverted to San Diego. In 2003 the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to transfer 200,000 acre-feet per year, if California took responsibility for the lake. In one year alone, according to a 2005 assessment made by Victor Ponce of San Diego State University, the diversion could reduce the lake area by 30 percent. That would expose square miles of dried lakebed. Wind-blown sediment could easily reach the streets and golf courses of Palm Springs, travel south to Mexicali, a city of over a million in Mexico, and even blow into the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino to the north.

Whatever is in the sediment will wind up in people's lungs.



As the sea dries and recedes, it exposes dust and dead fish, causing respiratory difficulties for children in the small farmworker towns at its edge.


That's already the problem of the farmworker towns of the eastern Coachella Valley - Thermal, Oasis, Mecca and North Shore - where dust from the fields and the evaporating sea gives everything a gritty coating when the wind blows. Dust creeps through the doors of the beaten up mobile homes in the tiny trailer parks wedged into the corners of fields and date groves.

In one such settlement Elisa Guevara leads protests over rent hikes or high rates for undrinkable water.  As we sat talking in her living room, her trailer vibrated from the wind. The swamp cooler on the roof cut the temperature inside by only a few degrees from the sun's furnace outside.



Rancho del Sol Trailer Park in North Shore, near the Salton Sea.


"We're a forgotten community. We're invisible," she declared angrily. "We're called 'ranchos polancos' - trailers without city permits that don't meet local codes. There's hardly any housing for farmworkers, so park operators can rent or sell us these dilapidated trailers. There are more than 100 parks like this in the Coachella Valley. None have permits. Workers often go without electricity and a sewer system, or live with contaminated water. If you complain the owners threaten to call the county or the migra."

Driving down towards the Salton Sea, I passed one of those trailer park "colonias" a few miles from Oasis. Near the dirt entrance road two men sat back against the battered silver skin of one mobile home. They were still in their work clothes - one older, stocky worker with a few days beard, and a thinner, younger man. Looking at their work belts and bags in the dust at their feet, I guessed they were "palmeros," or date palm workers.



A memorial to two workers killed in March 2016, when the platform they were working on came into contact with an electric power line. The crane was leaking oil and one worker was electrocuted while the other burned to death. Both were Mexican immigrants, trimming palm fronds for Valencia Tree & Palm Trimming. One worker was 22-year-old Osvaldo Ceron-Sevilla of Thermal. Other workers built this memorial to them on the corner of 68th Avenue and Highway 86, in the Mexican tradition.


Alberto Castro, the younger man, had spent 15 years working in the palms, one of Coachella's most dangerous jobs. Earlier I'd passed a roadside memorial next to a chain-link fence around a palm grove. Religious candles in tall glasses were surrounded by plastic flowers, a power line visible overhead. Last year two palmeros had been electrocuted on that spot.

"I still think about the two men who died in the palms," Castro told me in a low voice. "I knew them. They lived nearby and worked 30 years in the palms. They made just a small mistake - it can happen to anyone. They were not watching closely enough, and when they pushed the button to raise the arm of the machine, they struck the power line overhead and died. It was a shock to the rest of us. The owner of the ranch should not have been planted trees with power lines above them. I would never have put a palm there. But that is how we work."



Carlos Chavez and Alberto Castro both work as palmeros. After work they sit in the shade of the trailer where they live in a trailer park near Thermal.


Castro and his friend Carlos Chavez have had no union contract to provide them security over the decades, as Navarro has. But they have a special set of skills. Not many people are willing to climb 30-foot trees, so if they don't get hurt, they'll have work.

"There are many different operations we have to do to the palms, like harvesting and pollinating," he told me. "One month we'll do one thing, and the next month another. We have work the whole year - we never stop. But it's dangerous. The thorns in the fronds are very long and sharp, and can poke your eye out. You can slice your hand with the machete. In the 15 years I've been working here I haven't cut myself badly, and I haven't fallen, thank God. But I do not have another job to go to, so here I am."

Castro has taken his children, one 7 and the other 11, to work with him on the weekend, "so they can see how the money in our family is earned. This job in palms isn't really enough to support everyone well, but at least it is enough to eat, pay rent and buy gas," he explains to them. "I hope it convinces them to put more effort into school. I do not want them to follow in my footsteps. Every day I tell them if they try hard they can become a doctor, a firefighter or whatever they like, but not a palmero."



Carlos Chavez, a palmero, sits with his daughter Michelle, in a trailer park near Thermal. Michelle is in high school, trying to win a scholarship so she can go to college. Carlos took her to work with him one summer, but she didn't like it. She says it motivated her to study harder.


While we were talking, moving to keep in the shade, Chavez's daughter Michelle came out of the trailer to join us. Her father's eyes lit up. Michelle is doing what Castro hopes his kids will do also - studying hard in high school, hoping to get a scholarship. She went to work with her dad too, and came away determined to go to college. But she says she wants to stay in Coachella with her family, and find ways to keep them healthy and not so poor. I wondered if she would find the answers she was seeking.

Michelle may go away to school, but she's not leaving this community, nor are her parents. Although they all come from Mexico no one is leaving the Coachella Valley. From time to time Navarro goes back to visit Salitre, his hometown in Michoacán. "I stay a month and then I come back," he explained to me. "I have a house but it is falling down since no one lives there. All my family was born when I was working here, and my children are not thinking about going to live in Michoacán. They go with me to visit, but then they come back right away. They like it for a while but not to live there."

These farmworker families are in Coachella to stay. Rosalinda Guillen, who was born into a farm-worker family and today organizes farm-worker co-ops and unions, charges that mainstream stereotypes paint field laborers as transient and unskilled. "We're treated as disposable," she charges, "but we're human beings and we're part of the community."

Sustainability is the mantra for many groups seeking a future in which communities near the Salton Sea can survive. Guillen sees sustainability from a farmworker's perspective. To her, and to the workers of this valley, sustainability means that organic agriculture could help solve the problems of water runoff. That, in turn, could lead to jobs for communities living in broken down trailers, depending on dangerous work in the palm and mango trees. And if there were a union, it might become work they'd want their children to do.



The hands of Carlos Chavez, a palmero for over 20 years, show the lines and creases of a lifetime of hard work in the trees.


Guillen especially sees the irony in workers producing organic fruits and vegetables, which their low wages don't allow them to buy. "Like these organic carrots," she fumes, pointing to a bunch on a market shelf. "A farmworker can't come and pay the price for these fresh carrots, and they grow them! It's totally off balance. [The system] is unsafe, unsustainable, inhumane and unhealthy for everybody - for people, for animals, for the earth."

As one looks out at the dried crust of the Salton Sea's playa at the end of the day, covered with hundreds of tilapia skeletons, Guillen's words seem terribly relevant.


This article was written/produced with the support of a journalism fellowship from New America Media, the Gerontological Society of America and the Silver Century Foundation.